Mapping emerging musicality: a longitudinal study of musical development in the early years using the sound of intent framework.


Angela Voyajolu

                                                                 University of Roehampton

This doctoral project concerning music in the early years is situated in the context of Froebelian principles that stress the importance of early learning, singing, movement and rhyme for the education and care of young children (Tovey, 2012), and primary importance of play to children’s wellbeing and development (Weston, 2002). Central too is Froebel’s recognition of the importance of interaction through sound and music between caregiver and child. The project builds on research that took place in 2012/2013 with seed funding from Eastwood Nursery School: Centre for Children and Families, supported by the Applied Music Research Centre at the University of Roehampton. The pilot research explored the potential relevance of the ‘Sounds of Intent’ framework of musical development, originally designed for children and young people with learning difficulties, to all those in the early years, their parents and the practitioners who work with them (Voyajolu & Ockelford, 2016).


The data in the pilot project comprises ‘snapshots’ of children at different stages of musical development, while the factors that are likely to promote children’s musical development are largely left unexplored. The doctoral research addresses these two issues by testing the Sounds of Intent Early Years Framework (SoI-EYF) using longitudinal data and by identifying factors pertaining to key adults, activities and the child’s environment that may most effectively promote musical engagement and development in the early years.   


Naturalistic observations of fifty children (ranging in age from birth to five years) are being collected over a two-year period by the researcher, allowing me to build up a detailed picture of the musical lives of children within their daily environments. Observations are filmed using app technology designed specifically for mobile video ethnography. Environments include (1) the children’s centre, (2) the community carer/child structured music group, (3) the home and (4) incidental environments occurring when a child is out and about with family or other carers. The ‘environment’ also refers to interpersonal relationships, in this case (1) peers – siblings and friends, (2) adult family members and (3) teachers/practitioners.


The use of an observational longitudinal design draws on the work of Johanella Tafuri (2008), who followed children’s musical development over six years and Margaret Barrett (2011), who used this method with a focus on musical identity in the early years. Green & Hill (2006) state that ‘prospective, longitudinal studies of children’s daily lives and experience are rare but they offer great potential in capturing the dynamic and changing nature of life experience and place less reliance on children’s inevitably selective memories of past events’ (p. 17).


All parents whose children are in the study receive a questionnaire concerning their child’s musical environment at home. To gain an in-depth understanding of the responses to the questionnaire, home visits are being made to a sample those children whose parents are respond to the questionnaire, during which semi-structured interviews will take place.


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